Mid-parade protest was necessary to be heard, Pride demonstrator says

Protesters at Edmonton’s Pride parade expected mixed reaction when they stopped the parade in its tracks and issued a list of demands, including uninviting all Edmonton police, RCMP and military personnel from the parade.

Pride organizers 'were unwilling to talk with us without us having any type of leverage'

Shay Lewis stopping Edmonton's Pride Parade on Saturday. (Abdul Malik/Supplied)

Protesters at Edmonton's Pride parade expected mixed reaction when they stopped the parade in its tracks and issued a list of demands, including uninviting all Edmonton police, RCMP and military personnel from the parade.

But Shay Lewis, who was part of the protest, said stopping the parade was necessary for the conversation to move forward.

"The protest happened because they were unwilling to talk with us without us having any type of leverage," Lewis, who is gender-fluid and uses pronouns they/them, told CBC's Edmonton AM Monday.

Lewis said a group met with the Edmonton Pride Festival Society to discuss the participation of police and military in the parade, but it wasn't until they stopped the parade that the Pride committee agreed with its demands.

One of those demands was to uninvite Edmonton police, RCMP and the military from future parades.

"One of the biggest issues is that there's a lot of individuals within the queer and trans community, within the people of colour community, that just don't feel comfortable around the police because of their personal experiences of trauma," Lewis said. "When police are there, they don't come."

Who gets to attend pride? Edmonton's pride decision to ban military and police from marching in the parade, after a protest demanded it, has sparked that debate. I'll ask one of the protesters why they felt this was necessary. 6:17

The goal of Pride, Lewis said, is to be an inclusive space for all. 

But the participation of police can be triggering, with many still keenly remembering the 1981 police raid on the Pisces Health Spa where 56 men were arrested for "acts of indecency."

As well, the fact that street checks still disproportionately affect black and Indigenous people makes the police presence challenging for some people at Pride.

"The way they represent, possibly, their profession or their career impacts everyone around them," they said.

Police disappointed but accepting

All levels of police have expressed disappointment over the decision. The Edmonton Police Service called it "difficult to understand and disappointing," but they accept it.

Mike Elliott, president of the Edmonton Police Association (EPA), was volunteering in the beer gardens at the parade over the weekend.

While disappointed, he said he is willing to pursue difficult conversations about the relationship between the community and its police.

"I don't want people to be fearful or feel like they can't be comfortable around a police officer," Elliott said Monday. "If they feel that way, we need to hear about what those issues are."

Elliott acknowledged past wrongs of the bathhouse raids and said levels of police and government are looking into how to ensure people of colour are not disproportionately targeted by street checks.

About a dozen protesters brought the Edmonton Pride parade to a halt on Saturday. The Edmonton Pride Festival Society agreed to the protesters' demands, which included banning the police, military and RCMP from walking in future parades. (Christopher Martin/CBC)

But he said it's important police continue to show their support to the community. If they can't do that through the parade, Elliott said his door is open.

"I'm more than willing to sit down at the table and find out what can be done, if we can change, what needs to be changed, what doors need to be opened to address their concerns," he said.

Listening, he said, will help police learn how to do their jobs better. "I may think I know the issues, but maybe I don't know them all or I don't understand them from their perspective," he said. "But I want to learn from their perspective."

Lewis said communication between the two groups would be a great start. They acknowledged the strides police have made in recent years but said it's not good enough yet.

Lewis says their demand to uninvite Edmonton police, RCMP and the military is to ensure all members of the community at the parade feel comfortable. (Abdul Malik/Supplied)

In an ideal situation, Lewis said they want to march in a city free of marginalization of every minority, regardless of how they identify — and Edmonton is far from it.

"Until then, we can't just say that it's enough or that we're content that things have happened," Lewis said.

"We recognize that they've been changing and we just want them to keep going forward."